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Majority of U.S. Workers Continue to Punch In Virtually

Majority of U.S. Workers Continue to Punch In Virtually

by Lydia Saad and Adam Hickman

Story Highlights

  • 56% of U.S. workers working remotely all or part of the time
  • Slight increase in desire to return to the office, but most not ready
  • 23% of all workers would stay remote if given the option

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the pandemic stretches into its 11th month, a solid majority of U.S. workers continue to report they are working remotely all or part of the time in order to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus. The 56% working remotely in January is statistically similar to the 58% recorded in each of the prior four months.

When Gallup first asked workers last April whether they were working remotely, the rate was at its high point of 70%. It dwindled in each subsequent month before leveling off at 58% in September.

Line graph. The percentage of Americans who are working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, 56% of Americans say they are working remotely to avoid spreading the disease, little changed from 58% in December.

The decline in employed U.S. adults working remotely since the early days of the pandemic is mostly the result of fewer people reporting they "always" work remotely. This fell from 52% in April to 33% in September, and it has since held near that level.

Meanwhile, the percentage "sometimes" working remotely has been fairly steady at just over 20% for most of the trend, while the proportion "never" doing so has increased from 31% to 44%.

Line graph. The amount of time that employed U.S. adults worked remotely. 33% currently say they work remotely all the time, 23% report doing so some of the time and 44% note that they never work remotely.

Gallup tracks employed U.S. adults' remote work status as part of its COVID-19 tracking survey, conducted by web using the Gallup Panel. The latest update was conducted Jan. 25-31, 2021.

More Want to Resume In-Person, but Still the Exception

Last May, Gallup started asking remote workers what their preferred mode of working would be once business and school closures are lifted. Through a sequence of questions, the survey determines whether workers would prefer to:

  1. return to their office or workplace location as much as before;
  2. work remotely as much as possible because they are concerned about the coronavirus; or
  3. work remotely as much as possible because they prefer working from home

Initially, workers were split into rough thirds in their preferences. However, since last summer, when in-person work preferences dropped to a low point amid a surge of infections, an increasing percentage have said they would, if given the choice, return to their office or other workplace. This is now 39%, up from 28% in July. But more have also said they would want to continue working remotely because they prefer it, rising from 37% to 44%.

Meanwhile, fewer and fewer have said they want to continue working remotely out of concern about the coronavirus, a figure likely to decline further if the virus becomes less of a threat.

Line graph. U.S. remote workers' preferred working arrangement once COVID-19 related restrictions are lifted. 44% of remote workers would prefer to continue working remotely, 39% would like to return to the office and 17% want to continue to work remotely out of concern over the virus.

Up to One in Four Workers Hoping to Stay Remote Long-Term

The figures in the previous section are based on workers who have been doing their jobs remotely. When viewed on the basis of the entire workforce, 18% of all workers in January reported they always work from home and, if given the option, would continue doing so as much as possible because they prefer it. Another 5% sometimes work remotely and would prefer to continue to do that.

This brings the percentage of all U.S. workers who want to maintain their remote work arrangement to 23%, or nearly a quarter of the entire workforce.

Despite the decline in the percentage of employees working remotely since May, the percentage of all workers hoping to maintain this arrangement has edged higher, particularly in December and January.

Line graph. American workers' desire to continue working remotely, once business and schools reopen. 23% of workers say they would prefer to work remotely always or some of the time, unchanged from December.

Bottom Line

The proportion of U.S. workers doing their job remotely has been fairly steady since last fall, with about a third working remotely all the time and another quarter some of the time.

Meanwhile, remote workers have increasingly separated into two distinct groups: those ready to go back to their workplace when given the chance and those who would choose to continue working remotely as much as possible because they prefer it.

Altogether, it appears roughly a quarter of the workforce will test employers' willingness and ability to support remote work beyond the pandemic.

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.

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